To ensure grain trade, Belgium might send minesweepers to the Black Sea

Belgium is looking into whether it can send minesweepers to the Black Sea to ensure safe sea lanes for transporting grain. That's what Defense minister Ludivine Dedonder (PS) responded in the Federal Parliament this Wednesday 13 July to a question from Peter Buysrogge (N-VA).

In late June, Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren offered minesweepers for mine countermeasure operations in the Black Sea. Those ships must enable the sea route for the transport of grain. Due to the ongoing lockdowns, it has been impossible to transport Ukrainian grain for some time, threatening a serious food crisis in certain parts of the world.

Buysrogge wanted to know from the Defense minister whether Belgium would offer its capabilities alone or in partnership with the Netherlands. Dedonder replied that talks are still ongoing, but that the Defense organization has made an initial analysis of the feasibility of participating in an operation in the Black Sea with a minesweeper. "A Belgian minesweeper could participate in such an operation this year, albeit at the expense of an already planned NATO deployment," said Dedonder.

However, she stressed that a purely military solution is not obvious. This has to do with conditions in and around the port city of Odessa, with Russian units at sea on the one hand and a minefield with anchored sea mines on the other. In other words, permission will be required from Russia and Ukraine, but also Turkey.

"It is assumed that if our ships can enter the Black Sea, Russia will also make use of it. Finally, it is also obvious that any checks on the cargo will be carried out through UN-flagged boarding teams, where the EU can also play a role in ensuring merchant ships," added the minister.

The Red Cross could also be involved to emphasize the humanitarian nature of the operation.

Diplomatic effort

Ukraine is one of the world's leading exporters of wheat and other grains, but its exports have been blocked in the Black Sea by Russian warships, and mines placed by Kyiv are also a problem. 

Turkey, a member of NATO, has been stepping up diplomatic efforts for weeks to try to resume grain deliveries. According to Turkish officials, 20 merchant ships are currently waiting in the Black Sea and could be quickly loaded with Ukrainian grain. 

Russian and Ukrainian delegations are meeting in Istanbul this Wednesday to discuss the resumption of deliveries by the Black Sea of blocked grain.



© BELGA PHOTO (Johan NILSSON / TT News Agency / AFP) A minesweeper scans the waterway for mines as machine gunners on vessel look for threats during a demining exercise


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